“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” The Third Commandment requires a bit of explanation. That is because it is the only one of the Ten that is kept differently and not according to the same sense it was for the Israelites. And that is because with the Advent of Christ Jesus we have a chance to enter into a rest that was only hinted at in the Books of Moses (cf. Col. 2:16; Heb. 4:9).
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mat. 11:28-29). Set aside days and festivals that Israel observed do not carry the same obligatory weight for Christians.
Israel was given a couple of rationales for resting on the 7th day (Saturday) and keeping it holy. The first is as a reminder that God created the heavens and earth in 6 days, and then rested on the 7th day (cf. Gen 2:3; Ex. 20:11). And the second is for a reminder of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage (cf. Deu. 5:15).
Luther insightfully picks up on that which sanctifies, or makes something holy, and that is God’s Word. Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). And he also recognized the value of hearing God’s Word in community. The pattern of doing so at least once every 7 days was kept up by the Christian community, but as disciples were being expelled from the synagogue, Christians often gathered on the 1st day (Sunday).
“We are to fear and love God so that we do not neglect his Word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it,” is Luther’s explanation. And accordingly, we know it is God’s will for our lives to listen and honor God’s Word!
Since You Asked…
Why is incense used in some churches?
The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)